Courtney Force enjoying best stretch of Funny Car career


DRAG RACING

By David Brandt - Associated Press Sports Writer



FILE - In this June 27, 2015, file photo, Graham Rahal (15) celebrates with his then-fiancee, NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force, after winning the IndyCar auto race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Courtney Force has had a whirlwind few weeks, spending time in Nashville as a presenter at the CMT Music Awards, watching her husband Graham Rahal finish in the top 10 at the Indianapolis 500 and squeezing in sponsor events in places like Chicago and Florida. (AP Photo/Will Lester, File)

FILE - In this June 27, 2015, file photo, Graham Rahal (15) celebrates with his then-fiancee, NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force, after winning the IndyCar auto race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Courtney Force has had a whirlwind few weeks, spending time in Nashville as a presenter at the CMT Music Awards, watching her husband Graham Rahal finish in the top 10 at the Indianapolis 500 and squeezing in sponsor events in places like Chicago and Florida. (AP Photo/Will Lester, File)


NHRA drag racer Courtney Force speaks during a ceremony Wednesday June 13, 2018 in Navarre, Florida in which widow Natasha De Alencar and her children received a new home through the Building Homes for Heroes non-profit organization. De Alencar's husband, U.S. Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, died April 8, 2017 while serving in Afghanistan. Force was there representing Advance Auto Parts, one of the sponsors of Building Homes for Heroes. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)


In this photo provided by the NHRA, Courtney Force drives in Funny Car qualifying at the Virginia NHRA Nationals drag races at Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie, Va., Friday, June 8, 2018. Force took the provisional top spot with a run of 3.983 seconds at 323.35 mph. (Jerry Foss/NHRA via AP)


Courtney Force has had a whirlwind few weeks, spending time in Nashville as a presenter at the CMT Music Awards, watching her husband Graham Rahal finish 10th at the Indianapolis 500 and squeezing in sponsor events in places like Chicago and Florida.

And that’s on top of putting together the most dominant stretch of her racing career.

The 29-year-old Force has won three of the past four races in the NHRA’s Funny Car division, building a sizable lead in the standings over second-place Jack Beckman and third-place Robert Hight, who is Force’s teammate and last year’s champion.

She will go for her fifth win of the season this weekend in Bristol, Tennessee, at the Thunder Valley Nationals, and got off to a fast Friday (June 15) by topping the first day of qualifying.

“It’s my team, it’s the guys who are working on my race car,” Force said. “They’ve all gelled together really well and they have their routine. They’re putting together that car exactly the same every weekend and you need consistency on our race car on all ends.”

Her quest to become the first woman to win the division title is even more impressive because of her prodigious off-the-track schedule. Force and Rahal, who is sixth in the IndyCar standings, almost always spend any breaks in their respective schedules at each other’s races.

Force was there for the Indy 500 at the end of May. Rahal will be in Tennessee this weekend.

“We’re kind of used to it,” Force said. “We see each other way more than people imagine. We make it work because we’re traveling constantly for racing, but also to see each other. Even if it’s just a day to stop over in Indiana, it’s great to see him.”

The couple knew what they were getting into nearly three years ago when they got married because both grew up in racing. Courtney’s dad is 16-time Funny Car champion John Force while Rahal’s dad is Bobby Rahal, who won the 1986 Indianapolis 500.

Rahal said he spends about 270 days a year on the road.

“It’s a full-time job,” Rahal said. “We travel an insane amount. We spend our lives completely on the road. But we’ve come to get used to that, we’ve come to expect that that’s what it is for us.”

Rahal said it’s been rewarding watching his wife have such a good season. Force finished third in the Funny Car standings last year and has 12 career wins, but has never had a stretch like the past month.

“They’ve always had the speed, but clearly, they’ve got the consistency figured out,” Rahal said. “What’s cool about it for me is seeing her confidence really grow with the group she’s got.”

Rahal was also in Nashville when Force was at the CMT Awards, where she introduced singer Sam Hunt. Force said it was a “huge moment for me” and acknowledged the butterflies were more than she expected.

“I was way more nervous getting up and being on live TV for the CMT Awards compared to running a 330 mile-per-hour car,” Force said laughing.

Rahal said he doesn’t expect his wife will become any less popular over the coming weeks or months if her success continues. Force is cautiously optimistic, but also knows success can’t be taken for granted.

“We’re all trying to keep our heads straight,” Force said. “We’ve had a lot of success at the start of the season, but we know it can change in an instant. So we’re just trying to be careful and keep our focus each and every race.”

FILE – In this June 27, 2015, file photo, Graham Rahal (15) celebrates with his then-fiancee, NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force, after winning the IndyCar auto race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Courtney Force has had a whirlwind few weeks, spending time in Nashville as a presenter at the CMT Music Awards, watching her husband Graham Rahal finish in the top 10 at the Indianapolis 500 and squeezing in sponsor events in places like Chicago and Florida. (AP Photo/Will Lester, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/06/web1_120771461-80081b65eedc4289b10f150a26802d8e.jpgFILE – In this June 27, 2015, file photo, Graham Rahal (15) celebrates with his then-fiancee, NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force, after winning the IndyCar auto race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Courtney Force has had a whirlwind few weeks, spending time in Nashville as a presenter at the CMT Music Awards, watching her husband Graham Rahal finish in the top 10 at the Indianapolis 500 and squeezing in sponsor events in places like Chicago and Florida. (AP Photo/Will Lester, File)

NHRA drag racer Courtney Force speaks during a ceremony Wednesday June 13, 2018 in Navarre, Florida in which widow Natasha De Alencar and her children received a new home through the Building Homes for Heroes non-profit organization. De Alencar’s husband, U.S. Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, died April 8, 2017 while serving in Afghanistan. Force was there representing Advance Auto Parts, one of the sponsors of Building Homes for Heroes. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/06/web1_120771461-f238bba298224e588fb3315d958a04b8.jpgNHRA drag racer Courtney Force speaks during a ceremony Wednesday June 13, 2018 in Navarre, Florida in which widow Natasha De Alencar and her children received a new home through the Building Homes for Heroes non-profit organization. De Alencar’s husband, U.S. Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, died April 8, 2017 while serving in Afghanistan. Force was there representing Advance Auto Parts, one of the sponsors of Building Homes for Heroes. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

In this photo provided by the NHRA, Courtney Force drives in Funny Car qualifying at the Virginia NHRA Nationals drag races at Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie, Va., Friday, June 8, 2018. Force took the provisional top spot with a run of 3.983 seconds at 323.35 mph. (Jerry Foss/NHRA via AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/06/web1_120771461-3e8340e247eb44bf8260c4d0ad7fdc72.jpgIn this photo provided by the NHRA, Courtney Force drives in Funny Car qualifying at the Virginia NHRA Nationals drag races at Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie, Va., Friday, June 8, 2018. Force took the provisional top spot with a run of 3.983 seconds at 323.35 mph. (Jerry Foss/NHRA via AP)
DRAG RACING

By David Brandt

Associated Press Sports Writer

More AP racing news: https://racing.ap.org

More AP racing news: https://racing.ap.org